Chief Justice Minton presents first look at funding priorities for Judicial Branch

FRANKFORT, Ky., Feb.11, 2020 – Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. used his budget remarks today to remind legislators that nearly all of the Judicial Branch’s Court Operations unit – 88% – is tied up in salaries and benefits for justices, judges, circuit court clerks and court personnel.

“While the Judicial Branch represents only 3% of the state’s total budget, it accounts for 10% of the state’s workforce,” Chief Justice Minton said in his remarks before the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice, Public Safety, & Judiciary at the Capitol Annex.

He said that significant cuts to Court Operations would require employee layoffs and have a damaging effect on the court system’s ability to carry out its constitutional and statutory duties.  

With the court system struggling to compete in a tight job market and judges’ salaries ranked 50th among other states, Chief Justice Minton said the Judicial Branch budget recommendation for Fiscal Biennium 2020-2022 focuses on improving compensation for elected and non-elected personnel with a 2.5% increase in each year of the biennium (in addition to the 1% required by the budget instructions).

He said the Judicial Branch is also seeking funding to fill dozens of vacant positions and to cover the required defined calculations, which are the 1% annual increments, retirement contributions and health insurance premiums.

The request for capital projects included funding to build new judicial centers in Butler, Clinton and Owsley counties and for renovations/additions in Crittenden and Jessamine counties. The Judicial Branch is also requesting funds to create a maintenance pool for the Administrative Office of the Courts to use for planned and unanticipated non-capital projects, like new roofs, new boilers, chillers and HVAC systems.

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The chief justice is the administrative head of the state court system and is responsible for overseeing its operation. Chief Justice Minton was elected to the Supreme Court in 2006. His fellow justices elected him to serve a third four-year term as chief justice in 2016. He is chair of the board for the State Justice Institute, a federal nonprofit corporation that awards grants to improve the quality of justice in state courts. He is also a past president of the Conference of Chief Justices and past chair of the National Center for State Courts Board of Directors.

The Administrative Office of the Courts is the operations arm of the state court system. The AOC supports the activities of 406 elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks and nearly 3,400 Kentucky Court of Justice employees. The AOC also executes the Judicial Branch budget. Court personnel handle nearly 870,000 cases each year.